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A series of Fantasy/Alternate History books written by the talented Orson Scott Card, set a little bit after the American Revolutionary War, in a world where supernatural powers are a fact of life. In Spite of a Nail, however, history hasn't really diverged that much. There is a still a United States of America growing and racism still grows up in the South. However, this USA is much smaller, since the lower half of the Eastern Seaboard is the Crown Colonies, the government in exile of the House of Stuart. Up north is New England, still a colony of a republican England where the Restoration never occurred, and utterly opposed to "witchery", even though supernatural powers are very much real in this world.
Race and culture play a huge part in the story. The slavery of Blacks is still going on in the South, and there is a deep-seated, mutual distrust and hatred between the Reds and Whites. Representative of these differences is how the supernatural powers manifest themselves across the cultures. Whites have a knack, a single skill that they can perform perfectly (such as making a perfect barrel, or being able to tell when people are lying). The Reds live in perfect harmony with nature, and can communicate (albeit vaguely) with the land and animals through the "Greensong"; Reds can also use their blood to perform particular powerful bits of magic (especially the Mexica Reds, who sacrifice their still-living enemies). Finally, the Blacks use a form of voodoo magic, mixing earth and bits of their flesh or body to perform very powerful magic (such as when one black woman makes a poppet of herself with wings and burns it, sacrificing her life in order to grow wings and carry her child out of slavery). It's not clear how much of these abilities are nurture and how much are nature, since some characters can learn other people's knacks or other cultures abilities.
Born into all this is Alvin Miller (later Alvin Smith, and eventually Alvin Maker), a seventh-son-of-a-seventh-son and Expy of Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon Church), a young child with tremendous powers, destined to be a Maker, the first one for almost two thousand years. Able to bend metal, heal cancer, and many other abilities, he desires to learn how to control his abilities and help the world, aided by Peggy Larner, a girl with the ability to see people's thoughts, past, and future. Their primary goal is to build The Crystal City, a mysterious city of Maker's shown to Alvin in a vision.
Filled with historical figures and powerful magic, it's an entertaining and satisfying tale.
This series contains examples of:
- Abusive Parent:
- Cavil Planter sends his half-black children South into slavery when they're weaned.
- Arise Cooper beat his son Verily, often quite badly, so he wouln't be "taken in by the devil" (use his knack). The funny thing is it probably saved his life.
- Alternate History
- Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Alvin and his oldest brother Vigor.
- Cain and Abel: Alvin and Calvin.
- The Casanova: Honore Balzac. He even tries to hit on Peggy, despite knowing she's married.
- Child by Rape: Arthur Stuart.
- Clingy MacGuffin: The golden plow.
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: Actually more Crystal Dragon Joseph Smith, namely Alvin.
- Divided States of America: Split into three separate nations.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Daniel Webster is thoroughly disgusted by the Slave Finders.
- Fantasy World Map: Of North America.
- Functional Magic: In the various magic systems used by each race. (The differences in the use of magic is explained to be due to cultural differences.)
- "Whites" have Inherent Gifts; their magic attaches itself to an existing talent of theirs, accentuating that ability.
- "Blacks" use Device Magic; they attach their spirits to a small object that they keep on themselves, and these allow them to manipulate their magic in different ways. (Some slave traders used this against them and took away these talismans so as to essentially turn the slaves into mindless workers incapable of feeling true emotion.)
- "Reds" (Native Americans) use Force Magic; basically they hear the "song" of nature, which allows them to become a part of it. They use this power to communicate with the natural world around them, and among other things, they are able to walk through woods undetected, influence plants and animals, and run for hours on end without becoming weary.
- It is extremely rare for a person raised in one culture to learn the magic of another. It has more to do with upbringing than ancestry, so people of Native American descent who live in the United States use magic the way white men do. The only known exceptions are Alvin, who learned Red magic due to his being a powerful Maker and the year he spent living among Reds, and Arthur Stuart, who was taught by Alvin.
- Historical Domain Character: William Henry Harrison, William Blake, several Founding Fathers, Daniel Webster, Daniel Boone, Aaron Burr, Tecumseh (Ta-kumsaw), Tenskwatawa, and so many others.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: William Henry Harrison is the most prominent example. Card almost offers an apology for the change to this character in one of the prefaces.
- Hot for Teacher: Amy Sump gets this way for Alvin. Then she starts spreading rumors about them having sex...
- In the Past Everyone Will Be Famous
- Istanbul Not Constantinople
- Kuudere: Peggy when she first appears in the second book.
- Lego Genetics: In the case of Arthur Stuart.
- Magical Native American: The Native Americans genuinely are magical. So's everyone else.
- Make Way for the New Villains: William Henry Harrison being taken down by Calvin.
- The Man Behind the Man: Cavil Planter is the main force behind Harrison's presidential campaign.
- Manipulative Bastard: Daniel Webster is one, but the true master is Napoleon himself, who has this as his knack.
- The Messiah: Alvin.
- Murder Water: In this world, water is evil. It frequently tries to kill Alvin through various means.
- Later explained that the Unmaker uses water more easily than the other elements, because it's so naturally eroding. This helped a bit, as it was hard to keep seeing water as the "bad" element when it's so often fire in fiction.
- My Greatest Failure: For Peggy, it's not paying attention to her mother, resulting in her death at the hands of a Slave Finder. For Alvin, it's killing that same Slave Finder.
- Rule of Seven: Both Alvin and Calvin are a seventh son of a seventh son.
- Scarily Competent Tracker: The Slave Finders.
- The Storyteller: Taleswapper (William Blake).
- Sympathetic Magic
- Trilogy Creep: The prologue of the fourth book attempts to justify this somewhat.
- United Europe: Napoleon achieves this by not invading Russia.
- Weirdness Magnet: Alvin tends towards this, drawing in people with strong knacks...and their personal issues with them.
- What Might Have Been: At one point, a GURPS adaptation of this setting, written (or possibly co-written) by Card himself, was announced. In the two decades since then, it has showed no sign of appearing.
- Writer on Board